Views in brief

October 8, 2013

A stolen life

IN RESPONSE to "She gave 25 years and her life": Thank you, Leighton, for writing this. I am so angry I don't know how to contain myself. She is one of many, but your story gives body, gives presence, to the whole issue. After such knowledge, what forgiveness? Damn, damn, damn. I need a target for my anger.

Love and solidarity,
Gregg Shotwell

The ruling class and the state

IN RESPONSE to "Does GOP spell 'bad for business?'": Paul Heideman's excellent article expertly demonstrates how to apply a materialist analysis to the increasingly bizarre circus which is American politics. It stands head and shoulders above the dross pumped out by the mainstream media about "gridlock" in Washington and gets to the root of several questions I have found difficult to answer.

Having said that, I want to raise one point of contention. There is a long-running debate among Marxists about how to best understand the relationship between the capitalist state as an institution and the ruling class itself.

Readers’ Views welcomes our readers' contributions to discussion and debate about articles we've published and questions facing the left. Opinions expressed in these contributions don't necessarily reflect those of SW.

In his article, Paul argues that "Under capitalism, the state isn't directly controlled by capitalists, which creates the possibility for certain things to move in directions that capital doesn't want--though only to a certain extent, and for a limited period of time." This is a useful discussion to have when, for example, social-democratic parties built on trade unions win elections or, as we see today in Venezuela in the debate on the left about how to best understand the nature of the Venezuelan state. A SYRIZA victory in Greece would raise this potential as well.

Paul is right to point out that there are situations in which the capitalists can, for a time, lose direct control over the state, and this may happen in the future in the United States. However, I don't think this analysis fits in the case of the dynamics around the government shutdown.

Arguably, there has never been a time in American history when the capitalist class has more directly controlled the state than today. What Paul's article demonstrates very convincingly is that there really isn't a "grassroots" conservative insurgency (some sort of petty bourgeois rebellion, in Marxist terminology) which has seized power in the Republican Party against the wishes of American capitalists.

Rather, what Paul shows is that there is a significant difference of opinion between different capitalists (the Koch Brothers versus the Chamber of Commerce) over how best to use all the instruments they currently dominate, both within and without the state, in order to drive through austerity.

It is perhaps surprising how fiercely these sections of capital are beating up on each other at the moment; I certainly was taken off guard by how willing the Tea Party Republicans are to defy elite "common sense." I suspect this has something to do with the fact that there is a significant section of the ruling class that just cannot deal with the fact that we have a Black president.

However, I don't think the government shutdown rises to the level of an example of the ruling class losing "direct control" of the state.
Todd Chretien, Oakland, Calif.

Imperial overreach in the Philippines?

IN RESPONSE to "A front-line state against China": Left unmentioned in this otherwise excellent article by Alessandro Tinonga is the presence of the New People's Army (NPA), the military arm of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which has been fighting against the government in Manila for over 40 years.

The NPA has a presence on every major island of the Philippines, controlling a large swath of territory in Northeastern Luzon (most of the Cagayan Valley)--it is also an insurgent threat to the Aquino regime in Mindanao, in addition to the Muslim insurgencies of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and Abu Sayyaf (linked, correctly or incorrectly, to al-Qaeda).

Although it appears that the goals of the NPA combatants and the Muslim forces differ politically, their presence and the increased presence of U.S. military personnel, plus the militarization of Filipino society as a whole, are quite likely to lead to clashes, especially if the Philippines military pursues operations against the NPA with U.S. military advisers, in addition to the use of weapons and equipment imported from the U.S.

That the purported rationale of U.S. military aid and assistance is a growing Chinese "threat" (or more accurately, increased "potential" of such a threat) may complicate matters further, given that the NPA and the CPP have a Maoist orientation. If they feel threatened, they may possibly appeal to Beijing for foreign assistance of their own, although there is no real evidence at this time that the Chinese government is inclined to support the NPA or any other insurgencies abroad. But that, too, could change if Beijing feels threatened, not so much by Manila, but by the deployment of U.S. naval forces in the South China Sea.

Imperialist overreach by Washington and Beijing alike could very well spell disaster for the people of the Philippines. In a sense, the increased expenditure of financial resources to an already-bloated military, is already a crisis in the making.

Fueling all of this is the uncertain and untapped mineral and fossil fuel potential offshore of the islands of the Scarborough Strait, including the Spratly Islands, which has greater interest to the powers that be than the welfare of resident populations.

The unfortunate side to this situation is that the people of the U.S., even without the distractions of a federal government shutdown and the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, seem to have little knowledge of a situation with Vietnam War-like implications. It is certainly a situation that, with our military occupations and preoccupations in the Middle East, we can ill afford to indulge, to say nothing about its deleterious effect upon the people of the Philippines and possibly other parts of Southeast Asia.
James Kenny, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Exploitation at Whole Foods

IN RESPONSE to "Telling the whole truth about Whole Foods": Everything you write is true, and witnessed by me during the two years I worked for Whole Foods.

Nepotism was rampant, mistrust constant. My only goals were a sustainable income and an escape from poverty. I worked my ass off, got promoted to supervisor of my department and was told I was only worth $13.50 an hour to be someone else's boss--after the manager told me that I was the best interview he'd ever had. I'm barely a babysitter for that wage, let alone someone's boss.

I was accused of being pro-union, shortly after which I was fired. I witnessed security beating people outside of the store on more than one occasion, and the daily profiling of nonwhites by loss prevention. I complained to management about this, and the petroleum-based tarps covering so-called organic produce every night, to no avail.

People in my department rarely washed their hands, left half-eaten things on my produce cart, and were some of the biggest slobs I've ever come across--and because they're management they don't see fault or a need to take accountability for any of it. And all of this happened during the week they're teaching the department about safe food-handling practices.

I was the first of four people from my department to leave Whole Foods in one year. Let's be clear: Whole Foods is pro-nepotism, anti-union, good at propaganda--and the open door is your first step to getting fired.
Anonymous, from the Internet

Socialism and the environment

IN RESPONSE to "A new ecosocialist movement?": Three points: One, we need infinite growth in the knowledge and high-design sectors of any economy in order to have a more sustainable and lighter ecological footprint in all the others.

Two, I know of no law of capitalism that requires it to burn carbon or uranium for energy. As a practical matter, we may have to overthrow the current order to get clean and green energy, but there is no theoretical reason why it can't be started under the current order, should the political will for it be mobilized and concentrated.

Three, I prefer the term "21st century socialism" to "ecosocialism." There was more wrong with 20th century socialism than its approach to ecology. Its approach to markets and human rights were also highly problematic. I'd rather stress all three.
Carl Davidson, Aliquippa, Pa.